Eugene Wu's Lab

I study life at its borders. At the edge of our definition of life lies viruses, obligate parasites that invade cellular organisms to replicate. When a virus encounters a cell, it must recognize that cell through biomolecular interactions and then commandeer the cell to create copies of the virus’s proteins. Research in my laboratory focuses on those biomolecular interactions between the virus and the cell to gain insight into viral mechanisms of invasion. I employ techniques in structural biology to peer at these interactions at the atomic scale and methods in cellular biochemistry to take these interactions apart and put them back together. Beyond viruses, I am also interested in the chemical origins of life on Earth. How did life arise from atoms and molecules on the surface of a young Earth over 3.5 billion years ago? All macromolecules are assembled from building blocks by existing macromolecules (enzymes). Could chains of macromolecules that carry genetic information be formed without an existing enzyme? If so, what chemical conditions and surfaces are necessary to bring together life’s building blocks and catalyze their linkage? Answering these questions might help reveal how the last universal common ancestor of all living organisms arose.

Current projects

  • Structural biology of interactions between adenovirus and its receptor in the human eye
  • Replication of a giant virus
  • X-ray crystallography and biochemistry of DNA synthesis by DNA polymerase
  • Identification of candidate mineral catalysts for RNA elongation